Grocer sues its insurance companies for refusing to cover defense fees in opioid litigation.
Publix, a popular grocery chain in the southern U.S., is suing 22 insurance companies, claiming that the insurers have failed to protect the company from lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic or pay its defense fees. According to the suit, Publix has been targeted more than 60 times with legal cases since 2019, and the lawsuits have cost the company millions of dollars. The company is seeking reimbursement from the insurers for the defense fees, as well as damages for the alleged breach of contract.
Of the 22, 19 of the insurance companies that have been named as defendants in the lawsuit have all refused to pay for defense fees, and Publix did not give an estimate for how much it has spent or may spend as a result of the litigation against it.
The insurance companies argue that the policies that Publix has with them do not cover any losses that were a result of something that Publix did on purpose, according to the court cases, which Publix denies. There are also claims of negligence against Publix. The grocery store chain says that the insurance companies are wrong in their denial of coverage and the company will continue to pursue payouts.
The lawsuits against Publix allege that the grocer was negligent in its distribution of prescription opioids, which resulted in abuse, addiction, overdose, and death. It is also alleged that Publix created “a public nuisance” that has caused significant injuries to individuals. The public nuisance argument has been made in other cases against pharmacy chains, including those inside grocers. Publix has not been charged with any criminal offenses over and beyond the claims of liability made against it.
Cobb County is one example of an entity that has filed a lawsuit against Publix, claiming that the company helped expand the market for prescription opioids. According to the county, Publix failed to “comply with its gatekeeping obligation to protect the public, and refused to monitor and restrict the improper sale and distribution of the drug. “ The county alleges that Publix’s actions “led to an increase in opioid use and overdose deaths.”
The city of Orlando also sued Publix in May 2022 in one of more than 1,500 similar lawsuits filed across the country against pharmacies, drugmakers and distributors. Publix filed a motion this month to dismiss this case. Publix denied wrongdoing and said in its motion to dismiss that the city of Orlando “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
“The city does not allege that Publix sold opioids to anyone who was not lawfully entitled to receive them or that Publix filled any prescriptions not lawfully issued,” the company said.
Publix’s insurance policies, provided by Hartford Fire Insurance Co. and Twin City Fire Insurance Co., require the payment of legal defense costs for lawsuits resulting from claims of bodily injury, according to Publix’s complaint. Publix alleges that the insurers have not paid for any of these legal defense costs even though this clause is present.
The grocer is now suing its insurers for breach of contract and is asking the court to declare that the insurers are obligated to its costs, including any settlements and judgments resulting from opioid suits against it.